Housing Woes: Transit-Land Use Integration Is The Key

TRANSIT is interested in the discussion over pricey homes and Putrajaya’s and Selangor’s proposed ‘affordable housing’ schemes on the Malaysian Insider. Note that HDB flats in Singapore are built according to Transit-Oriented Development principles where high-rise residents have equal and equitable access to the nearest bus stop if not the MRT stop.

Sprawling housing development pattern is not sustainable in the long term. Private traffic road layouts, plus security blockades and car-oriented development hamper transit use. (Image belongs to lifeinstillmode.blogspot.com)

Average house price to average annual urban household income (indexed at 9) in Kuala Lumpur has breached way beyond the unaffordable treshold by international standard (indexed at 5.0)! Land use and transit regulation that enforces high density around transit stations and restricts new development sprawls cause such unaffordable ratings for Hong Kong and Vancouver, but here in KL, there is no land use and transit integration, massive sprawl liberates, overspills and reaches to the fringes of Selangor, average access time to jobs are tremendously high (costly, and full of hassles), but the average house price is still unreachable to many.

Most, if not all, of newer low cost housing units in Greater KL, in contrast, are located at areas land-locked by expressways (some even occupy the bits of corners and spaces left by highway interchanges!), thus making the dwellers auto-dependent, since permeability can’t exist due to pedestrian-unfriendly surroundings and buses can’t be attractive due to the squiggling route they have to take to negotiate the intricacy of highway-demarcated road layouts.

Remember the low cost flat units next to Jelatek LRT which has been demolished to make way for expensive and posh condominium? (Selangor’s PKNS, please wake up!) Skip to the nearest station up north, and we can see exclusive private condo enclaves totally block what should be the nearest and closest path from the surrounding flats and apartments (situated behind the enclaves) to the Setiawangsa LRT. (DBKL, you also wake up!) So we are not pretty sure to be elated by the news from both Putrajaya and Shah Alam over their affordable housing plans – what is the use of slightly cheaper homes when access to work and activity centers are made way expensive (higher vehicle miles traveled per capita, and lower disposable income balance for other non-transport and non-shelter spending).

Government moving towards Singapore-style public housing board

KUALA LUMPUR, May 6 — The government is in the initial stages of establishing a national public housing authority similar to the one in Singapore, that will build affordable quality homes, said Datuk Chor Chee Heung.

The housing and local government minister told The Malaysian Insider that a national housing board was one of the initiatives the government was working on to address increasing concerns over the affordability of residential property.

He also said that a number of developers are now realising the demand for affordable housing and happy to build property costing RM150,000 to RM200,000 “a little bit outside of KL”.

The minister said that once the KL MRT is completed — the first line stretching from Sungei Buloh to Kajang is slated to start operations in 2017 — it will make it easier for young adults to commute to the city.

“Don’t rush to buy a house now,” he said. “Once the MRT is there, there will come a time when it will be affordable for someone with five years’ working experience to buy a property.”

TRANSIT: Don’t buy a house till the MRT is completed? When MRT comes, things will go easy?

Dream on. The 6th Malaysia Plan said one of two commuters in Klang Valley will take the public transport by the year 2000 with the completion of LRT systems. The transit model share did not go up, but PLUMMET! Even those living very few kms off terminus points of KJ, Ampang and Sri Petaling lines can’t benefit from the LRT due to traffic congestion and parking limitations (heck, Ara Damansara residents who live next to KJ Line depot will find it heck of a journey to get to the nearest running station!). Not to mention poor feeder bus services which can’t be improved due to lack of transit and land use integration, and pedestrianization at local council levels.

High property prices in urban areas have prompted the Najib administration to introduce a first-home ownership scheme in March in addition to the loan-to-value ratio cap in a bid to stave off discontent.

The government’s My First Home Scheme will enable young adults aged up to 35 and earning less than RM3,000 to obtain 100 per cent financing to buy houses worth between RM100,000 and RM220,000 with a repayment period of up to 30 years.

Selangor announced on May 4 that it will launch an affordable housing scheme and offer houses “more comfortable” than low-cost units, similar to the My First Home Scheme mooted by the federal government.

The Selangor-backed scheme is expected to offer 750- to 850-sq ft units with the maximum cost for each house at RM100,000 and reserved for those earning between RM2,500 and RM5,000 a month.

TRANSIT Says: Attached house unit pricing lesser than RM250K sounds nice, until one sums up the transportation costs (fuel, toll, stress, wasted hours). It is interesting to note that house prices in the capital city of Malaysia is rated highly unaffordable by international standards.

Transit oriented developments (TOD) that concentrate residential densities and activity centers around present rail and LRT stations can relieve Klang Valley’s housing pressure – why nothing has been done on TOD to stations around present LRT stations? Add more sprawling residential areas around the fringes of GKL without proper urban public transportation and land use planning, and a traffic nightmare will surely follow for everyone.

Transit and land use integration can't be effective in an environment where urban sprawl rules. Imagine if an expensive multibillion MRT station is plucked right in the middle of a non-pedestrian-oriented neighborhood, how much catchment will it generate? Perhaps less than a third of the overall 400m radius area surrounding the station. (Sightline Institute graphics)

Urban sprawl causes high vehicle miles traveled per urban dweller, and regardless of fuel and housing subsidies, with high travel journey and time spent, expenditures will still be high and that will offset any savings. The govt must first start to plan on determining core activity centers in GKL, connect these centers with each other with plenty of cost-effective Bus Rapid Transit corridors (complimenting present rail systems), and implement TODs along the nodes of these transit corridors.

Without organization on the way how we live/work/play and how we move around, we can end up paying much much more in the end – especially our young adults – who will find it next to impossible to establish themselves socially and economically given the increased cost of housing, transportation, energy and basic necessities.

Perhaps, the opposition leader is right in the sense that the real administrators of land use and development (the city councils definitely, under the coordination and purview of the Selangor State Government) should have the upper hand in deciding what the MRT should look like if the Federal Government through SPAD and Prasarana still insist on railroading the project.

Back to the MRT, again…

Without proper TOD implementation, high capital expenditure of mass transit projects can be transferred to non-beneficiaries. The Malaysian public has yet to equitably benefit from the RM10billion light rail projects (PUTRA, STAR and KL Monorail). Remember, without property value capture surrounding the stations (like MTR in Hong Kong), the present LRT/Monorail fare has to be increased to RM9/ride for the general taxpayers to be shielded from footing the bill in the next 20 years. The city and local councils must play a role in this. TRANSIT receives complaints from local councils that they are not consulted on how the MRT will be integrated with local plans, what more on having a say on embarking proper local transportation plans (bike, pedestrian and local bus) as part and parcel of the overall Klang Valley public transportation masterplan which SPAD is currently working on.

The MRT, including land acquisition and rolling stocks, can go more than 5 times the figure. TRANSIT as an NGO concerned in transparent and competent transit planning and decision making is against the present sense of rush in embarking on the MRT project because if the government can’t fix the present RM10billion infra flop, there is no way the general Malaysians can be shielded from another massive financial resource drainage with another RM50 billion project.

RM50 billion can do wonders – hundreds of lines of trams and Bus Rapid Transit systems for all towns and cities in both Peninsula and East Malaysia – and create tremendous business growths and productivity savings equitably and cost-effectively for all. Rapid urbanization trend must not be too concentrated in Greater KL alone, and for this to happen, efforts to increase the attractiveness of other cities through excellent urban public transport systems that form the cities’ backbone mobility infrastructure should not be sidelined.

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One thought on “Housing Woes: Transit-Land Use Integration Is The Key”

  1. I really doubt it that whether Malaysian government can really achieve it or not. Let’s just wait and see.

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